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Fish, finances, and feasibility: Concerns about tidal energy development in the United States

Article

Fish, finances, and feasibility: Concerns about tidal energy development in the United States

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Abstract

This article explores stakeholder views on tidal energy in the state of Washington. Through compiling and analyzing three qualitative datasets, we take a triangulated approach to better understand stakeholders’ positive and negative views, concerns, and needs regarding tidal energy and if and how these are represented through print and online news sources. We analyzed comments submitted during the permitting process for the Admiralty Inlet Pilot Tidal Project, comments included as part of a tidal energy mail survey sent to Washington residents, and media articles about tidal energy. We found four types of concern themes within negative views towards tidal energy: environmental, social, economic, and technical. Shared concerns between organized stakeholder groups and resident stakeholders about the project and tidal energy in general included concerns related to the harm to marine life, the loss of native fishing rights, expensiveness of development, increased electricity costs, and the engineering challenge of developing tidal energy. Concerns unique to stakeholder groups for the project included threats from scaling up, issues related to public safety and security, damage to cables, inability to stop the turbine, harm to terrestrial flora, and sediment disruption and contamination. Positive views were commonly associated with the need to address environmental issues, technological innovation and leadership, desire to have a diverse energy portfolio, and economic benefits.

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... Lifetime issues: Large MRE technologies alter the local flow hydrodynamics, impacting bypass currents, wakes, mixing, turbulence, sediment transport, littoral drift, scour, turbidity, seabed morphology, biodiversity, pollutant levels in biota, food availability, and water quality (see Bonar et al., 2015 and references therein). In addition, infringement of tribal fishing rights, acoustic and electromagnetic harassment of sea life, and interrupted migratory pathways, particularly in estuaries, all must be addressed (Dreyer et al., 2019). Borthwick (2016) summed up the challenges as follows: ...
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It is commonly assumed that attitudes and behaviours need to be modified to secure a sustainable energy future. This paper examines insights from the social sciences in this extensive field. Alongside instruments such as regulation and economic measures, government campaigns have sought to ‘educate’ the public. However, such ‘information deficit’ models have been criticised on theoretical and pragmatic grounds. In the area of energy consumption, there is a need to take account of the physical, social, cultural and institutional contexts that shape and constrain people's choices, and for a richer understanding of opposition to energy facility siting, which has often been (inadequately) characterised as ‘NIMBYism’. Recent work also points to the need for more deliberation and better communication between decision-makers, technical experts, other stakeholders and the public. Predicting future developments in the field is challenging but attention is likely to focus on aspects of policy learning, a more critical examination of the ‘deliberative turn’, and the need for a systemic approach to complex socio-economic and socio-technical systems. The consistency of government objectives across all policy spheres is likely to provide an important avenue for future research.
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The literature on public attitudes to wind power is underpinned by key assumptions which limit its scope and restrict the findings it can present. Five key assumptions are that: (1) The majority of the public supports wind power. (2) Opposition to wind power is therefore deviant. (3) Opponents are ignorant or misinformed. (4) The reason for understanding opposition is to overcome it. (5) Trust is key. The paper calls for critical reflection on each of these assumptions. It should not be assumed that opposition to wind power is deviant/illegitimate. Opposition cannot be dismissed as ignorant or misinformed instead it must be acknowledged that objectors are often very knowledgeable. Public attitudes and responses to wind power should not be examined in order to mitigate potential future opposition, but rather in order to understand the social context of renewable energy. Trust is identified as a key issue, however greater trust must be placed in members of the public and in their knowledge. In sum, the literature must abandon the assumption that it knows who is 'right' and instead must engage with the possibility that objectors to wind power are not always 'wrong'.
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